That all of them may be one
Ryusho Jeffus, Shonin
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
All the Differences Are Equality in God
Whenever I read a spiritual writing, regardless of the source, I try to suspend the man in me and open to the spirit. The man in me would try to define, to explain the meaning, to delve as deep as I could into trying to figure it all out. But the spirit is not to be found in our oh so clever brain. It is resident in our heart.
I have tried to read this Psalm from my heart and in so doing I ask myself how do I feel when reading this. Suspending my need to explain I sit with the wonder or even the confusion. Reading this I feel awed, I also feel humble, I feel embraced, and I feel safe and valuable.
These verses remind me of a parable found in Buddhism called ‘Simile of Herbs’. In this parable the various plants are described as they live on the earth; there are big ones, there are short ones, and there are bushy ones. The plants come in various sizes, shapes, and functions.
We, and the things that live on this earth are like this. Life manifests in countless ways, even in ways and places our brains might suggest as being completely impossible. It is perhaps impossible to fully understand the infinite potential for life on our planet, of which humans are a very small part.
As the parable continues it talks about a great cloud that appears in the sky. This great cloud is immense in size and caries nurturing rain. This rain is not partial; it does not seek out some plants over others, giving more to some and less to others. The rain falls equally around; it is the plants, which take what it is they need for their own functions.
Even though some plants require great quantities of water and others only require a small amount they all equally benefit from the rain that is falling without impartiality.
I suspect God’s spirit is like this, wouldn’t you say? Each of us has certain things we are good at doing. You can look at your neighbor and perhaps you can see things they can do that you cannot. Even if we look at the plants and animals that are abundant around us, how many of us could do what they do? I am poorly suited to be a beast of burden, yet I cannot exist without the burdens it carries. I am incapable of being the constant giver of unconditional love like my dog, yet I am nourished by its affection.
I find it hard to believe that I, who am so limited in what I can do, would be more loved by the person who makes all things. Life is manifest in each of the creatures of the universe, and life is nourished and fulfilled by each of those creatures. I am not the corn or wheat I use to make my bread and feed my animals. I can make the bread the wheat cannot.
Wheat has its unique capacities as do I. We each receive equally the gift of life. We each receive equally the nourishment from our divine, our capacities and talents are differen,t but we are all equally loved.
The Psalmist says that the Lord’s creations, God’s efforts, are varied and it was through God’s wisdom, it was God’s plan that all were made as they were. How can we doubt this? The universe, our earth is so full of life, could any one of us have done such a wonderful job? I can’t even keep my desk clean; you would not want to live in a world I created. God made the goofy, the quirky, the short, and the small. It’s all there of God’s effort and not of mine or yours. Heck, we can’t even come into life without someone or something taking care of us.
God made my silly dog, who refuses to stop jumping on people when she greets them, he also made her so devoted that she loves me even when I am busy and tired. He made the grains of the earth in such a way that it is possible for any life form to sustain themselves. Unfortunately he also made weeds. Oh my gosh, did he ever make a bunch of weeds.
Oh, and she also made slugs, ugh.
So how do we hide from God? I mean God is everywhere right? God, I believe doesn’t so much hide from us as we hide God. When we fail to realize, or when we take for granted the things in our life, the people, the animals the plants, even the rain, when we fail to praise those things as gifts from God, then we have hidden God from our lives. We hide God when we fail to love even the things we do not like or understand. It isn’t our plan, it is God’s plan. Who are we to pick and choose what deserves our love and what does not when God loves all? The wonderful rain falls equally upon and nourishes all.
By hiding God, by setting ourselves up as the one to decide what is great and what deserves more of our love and respect, we may not realize how our life diminishes. If we fail to understand our true relationship with the things around us, if we fail to see that we have an equality in good that is not based upon our intellect or our skills, we start to disconnect from and devalue those very things in our life. And, in fact, we are saying we think we are better than even God because we know what is worthy and what is not.
As an example, we only need to look at the effects of abandoning healthy eating habits, or our callus disregard for the environment. I am sure we all have seen examples of couples who over time take their spouse for granted and the relationship begins to change, possibly even fall apart. God is found not only in the things, the material objects she has created, God is also found in the relationship among those things. We are capable of either diminishing or enhancing her presence.
In closing, I would like to look at the last passage from this Psalm, the one that asks that sinners be consumed from the earth and the wicked be no more. I suppose there are numerous ways of looking at this, but the way I view it is that through our actions we can illuminate a path for others to follow. God calls us to not only do good and be good for ourselves but to also minister with our lives and actions our faith in him. I read this as a plea that God help us to be better able to lead those who do not understand the greatness of life to a fuller understanding of its joy and beauty.
Just as we teach our children to say please and than you, we can teach others the appreciation for the gifts in life. When I can look at that clerk who is ringing up my purchases in Wal-Mart, when I can look that clerk in the eye, and say to them from the bottom of my heart, thank you, when I can do that without any expectation of any reciprocating response, I believe I am giving them the gift of the love of God.
We can choose to elevate or we can choose to hold down. We can damn people to the earth or we can raise them to heaven by our actions to them. That person who may be doing a menial job is doing something that is making my life possible. Without their effort we cannot exist. If we did not exist, could we praise God? If it weren’t for the carpenter who built our church, who may or may not believe in God, without them could we gather today to express our love of God?
We have the power to bury, to deny, to ground into the earth with our heal those we ignore, or those with whom we disagree, or those who are not like us, but we also have the power to celebrate, praise, cherish and lift up to heaven. Let God and the love of God motivate us in all aspects of our thoughts and deeds. God resides in our lifting up, not in the heal of our shoe used to trample upon.
As we sit and ponder the word, the meaning, and the spirit of the text, the joy of God, let us determine each of us to go forward and not only see God in all things, but to be God in all things. Let us each choose to renew our effort to live the life God has given in such a way that none will doubt the presence of the divine.
Rev. Dr. Nancy Kraft, PhD
Kicking and Screaming into the Kingdom of God
Imagine gathering together with people from every nation under the sun and they’re all talking at once. That’s the way the Christian church began, in a demonstration of diversity, like the Tower of Babel after people became divided over language and culture. But the day of Pentecost reversed the division of diversity. The cacophony of voices talking past one another was transcended and suddenly God’s people were communicating and connecting with one another. A bunch of uneducated guys from Galilee spoke so each person could understand what they were saying, each in their own native tongue. No one had gone to language classes and there were no interpreters on hand. How was this possible? It was a God moment for sure. The Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them had arrived and it spread through their ranks like a wildfire.
We learned something about God that day. The story reveals to us the very nature of how God is active and alive in the world. God isn’t trapped in the musty old pages of a holy book. God is on the move. And from the very beginning we can see the direction God is headed. God is pulling us toward a place that includes all people. That place knows no boundaries just as the love of God knows no boundaries. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God.
It’s such a profound truth that you’d think Jesus’ followers would have welcomed it with open arms and embraced it as the only way to be in the world. But, from the get-go, the opposite has been the case. God’s people have always been pulled, kicking and screaming, into the Kingdom of God.
Just a chapter before the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, Jesus is with his disciples for the very last time. They’ve spent years with this man. They’ve heard him teaching about the Kingdom of God. They’ve witnessed what it looks like for a person to live within that reality through his actions. And yet, when the risen Christ tries one last time to explain it to them, they have just one more question for him. “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel now? Is this the time?” Can you imagine? I would have wanted to pop them one and say, “How is it that you still don’t get it?” But I guess Jesus realized at that point that they were never going to get it. Not without a serious intervention.
So, he tells them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes over you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world” (The Message). Jesus makes it clear that the direction of the Spirit was not inward, but outward. And right out of the starting block, on the Day of Pentecost, his words are fulfilled as people of all nations hear about what God is doing in the world.
The disciples are transformed. Even Peter, the one who always had such a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, suddenly becomes eloquent. When folks who are watching all this want to know what’s going on, he quotes from the prophet Joel. I don’t know if he realized what he was saying, but the Spirit got it right in the selection of a sermon text that day. Through this passage Peter explains the significance of what’s happening by laying out God’s intention of diversity and inclusion for his people.
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people.” Every kind of people. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? No exceptions. No exclusions. And he gives some examples of that, lest anyone miss the point. Sons and daughters will prophesy. Apparently gender differences aren’t an issue for the Spirit. Young men will see visions, old men will see dreams. So age doesn’t seem to be an issue either. The Spirit is poured out on all. It’s not like an eye dropper that very carefully and selectively chooses a few lucky recipients; it’s a cloudburst that soaks every last one of us to the bone.
The dynamic movement of the Spirit toward inclusion didn’t end on the Day of Pentecost. You’ll notice that even though the people who were gathered in Jerusalem that day were from a multitude of nations, they were all Jews. This became the first big challenge for the church as the Spirit pulled them along into the Kingdom, kicking and screaming. It was a huge controversy. There were angry meetings, and heated letters flying back and forth. But, if those early church leaders knew anything about how the Spirit of God works in the world, they had to know the direction it was all headed. Sooner or later, God’s love was going to break open their hardened hearts and minds and they were going to welcome Gentiles into their family. That’s the way God’s Spirit works. She’s always about the business of challenging our fear-driven need to exclude people and leading us into a community that reflects the grace of God.
You know, we’re all are a part of God’s realm, whether we recognize that or not. But the Spirit pushes, pulls, and prods us to expand our understanding of God’s Kingdom so that we get closer and closer to realizing it as it really is, that is, the way it is from God’s perspective, so we can enjoy being a part of it.
I like the definition of God that says, “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” It’s hard for us to get our heads around that. It seems that we’re more comfortable saying that there is a definite center, and that would be where our own personal truth is located, and there is a definite circumference, which would bump right up against the limits of our imagination. Based upon the circles we create for our understanding of God, we like to believe we can determine who’s in and who’s out. But the Spirit won’t let us do that. She constantly challenges us to expand our circle as it moves closer and closer toward that circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.
This is the story of God’s Spirit alive and working in the world through the church. Historically, we’ve struggled to figure out how to include men and women, rich and poor, slaves and free, gay and straight. Personally we may struggle to include folks who didn’t vote the way we did in the last presidential election, people who have a foul odor because they don’t have a place to shower, or people who are just plain annoying. I think we all struggle with how to include people who don’t believe what we do about God. Are Muslims, Scientologists, atheists a part of the Kingdom of God? I can assure you that just when we think we have it all settled about who’s in and who’s out, the Spirit is going to come along and mess everything up for us. You may have noticed that we seem to make believing the litmus test for who’s in and who’s out. After all, the Bible says you have to believe in Jesus, right? Well, if we know anything about the way the Spirit works, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.
On the day of Pentecost we’re reminded of how it all started for us as a Christian church. Within that story of our beginning, our mission was set in motion. Like a pebble dropped into a quiet lake, the Spirit created a ring in the water. If you've ever tossed a pebble into the water, you know what happens after that first tiny ring appears. It grows into a larger ring, and then a larger one after that, again and again. That’s the direction it takes. So, it begins, and so it continues. And that’s the way God is working through his people in the world. We’re being pulled toward living into God’s Kingdom. It’s what Jesus kept talking about when he taught us about the Kingdom of God as a reality, right here, right now. The Holy Spirit is moving us toward realizing it in our midst by the ways we include all in God’s circle of love. We can cooperate with that movement of the Spirit, or we can be pulled into God's Kingdom kicking and screaming. But make no mistake about how the story of God's relationship with his people unfolds. God's Kingdom comes. It's happening.